off the record: Mary Ann Zoellner & Alicia Ybarbo,
Today Show producers and authors of Sh*tty Mom
Mary Ann Zoellner and Alicia Ybarbo are award-winning NBC Today Show producers as well as authors of two parenting books, 'Today's Moms' & New York Times bestselling ‘Sh*tty Mom.’ Both of these women know a thing or two about balancing work and family life with multiple Emmys to each of their names as producers for one of the most successful morning shows on television. Both having two children and husbands and working in very demanding high-profile careers, the idea came to them as a joke over margaritas as they were recapping hilarious and real stories of “getting through” typical working mom struggles. Their book is a national best seller and has won accolades from several sources. Their honesty and ability to laugh at the parenting moments where they've maybe come up short, and ability to count the wins when they happen, allow themselves, their families and their legions of fans to stop taking themselves so seriously and start appreciating the moments when life isn’t always perfect.
The Void: What was the impetus for writing “Sh*tty Mom”?
Mary Ann Zoellner: Alicia and I have worked together for, oh my god it’s crazy, we’ve worked together 18 years! When Alicia had her first child, she was the head of the pack and then a year later I got pregnant and we were both like “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” because we were the ‘Today Show women that were having babies.’
Alicia Ybarbo: AND NO ONE WAS HAVING BABIES BACK THEN! If you watch the Today Show now everyone is like look at my baby! Look at my baby on the set! Everyone is showing their babies or their baby bellies and all that. When MaryAnn and I starting having kids at the Today Show, you were a woman, you worked, and that was it! No one was having babies, so that’s why we grew such a bond.
THE BIRTH OF “SH*TTY MOM”
Mary Ann Zoellner: We wrote the first book called Today’s Moms and that was all about babies first year and we got all the anchors to weigh in including Meredith, Matt, Al, Amy Robach and everyone that was at the Today Show that had a kid. Then we got all the experts to weigh in like Joy Bauer on how to get your health back and that kind of stuff. Needless to say, the book was not a bestseller, but it was a great experience for us.
Then afterwards, we were like what are we going to do about our second book and our first inclination was we’re going to write a book about toddlers. Then we were like what the f*ck?! We can’t do anything we can’t eat, we can’t sleep, we’re running ragged and we’re just dropping balls everywhere, we’re basically like sh*tty moms. Who are we to be giving out this advice? The more we started talking to people the more we started figuring out that everybody is going through what we we’re going through which basically was some days you’re on and some days you’re off and letting go of the guilt, which was a big thing behind it.
Alicia Ybarbo: We would come into work every day and share our “sh*tty mom” stories. You know, like let me tell you what happened to me this morning. You’re taking care of everyone so obviously something is going to fall through [the cracks], something is not going to perfect, something is just going to be broken. So you get into the office so you’re like “ugh, here’s my moment.”
Again we’re telling our own shitty mom stories so we’re like let’s just write a book called Sh*tty Mom! We covered our mouths and we were like ‘no we couldn’t do that!’ We thought, we were just going to use it as our working title and it just caught on.
It maybe took three years between idea and getting it launched and just writing it – here we were, two television producers who work for the number one morning news program with a book called Sh*tty Mom. During that time, Go the F*ck to Sleep had just come out and had did gangbusters. We were still scared but we knew that book had kind of moved a few mountains for us.
WHY TRUTH MATTERS
The Void: Why do you think it was important that other women hear that and what was the response when you started talking about this from other women either that you worked with or other women in the community or other women that read the book?
Mary Ann Zoellner: The interesting thing is that we were really nervous to launch this. We just didn’t know and we thought we were going to be judged. My husband was so nervous and he was like, “don’t put the girls real names in the thank you section and acknowledgment sections!” Then once we talked to women it was so funny to find that men were a harder on us and way harder judges. I met women when I traveled who were like “Oh my god I am a sh*tty mom! I need that book!”
One of my favorite moments of all time was with Dolly Parton. I had a Sh*tty Mom necklace I was wearing and Dolly was looking at my necklace and she’s like “what does that say?” And I tell her Sh*tty Mom and she goes “what’s sh*tty mom?” And I tell her and she goes “Oh my god! I love it! Sh*tty mom!” At that moment I was like yeah I got the Dolly seal of approval!
We launched it at a mom conference actually called mom 2.0 and we were just gobbled up with love. What we realized is what women need to hear is that’s it’s going to be ok. You can have these bad moments and scream at your kid, but you’re still a great mom.
THE MEANING OF SH*TTY MOM
Alicia Ybarbo: And people that have a problem with the title Sh*tty Mom have not read past the cover. Once you do realize what the tone is and what the message is you get it and you understand it and embrace it. Most people who do not go beyond the cover, think “oh my god, Sh*tty Mom means you’re a horrible mom.” Instead, those two things cannot be more opposite of each other.
The Void: Women just naturally don’t talk about the negative, especially successful woman that are really trying to balance a lot in their lives. They want everything to be great, they want everything to be the best they can be. And they hold themselves up to a really high standard of what that is. And so no one ever complains. Do you think that woman should have it all? Is that even obtainable? Is that a false premise?
Alicia Ybarbo: Sh*tty Mom came out in 2012 and we were one of the pioneers of letting people know that you can say that you’re not the best mom. You’re trying really hard. Some days you fail, some days you’re the queen of the castle. Now there is just such a wave of everyone/wanting to own that title and it’s great. it’s refreshing to hear so many women applaud themselves for not being the perfect mom and not being the perfect wife. As Mary Ann likes to say, we started a revolution.
CAN YOU HAVE IT ALL?
The Void: Men don’t try to have it all. They want what they want in that moment and let everything else fall by the wayside. Whether it’s their career and sometimes for them it’s their family. But women want to try to make everything work at the highest level possible.
Mary Ann Zoellner: I think that you can have it all, but not at the same moment or the same day.
My biggest accomplishment these days is getting my 2 kids to school on time. And if I do it’s a win and whatever happens the rest of the day, even if everything else can fall apart, I have two wins right now.
One day you’re going to be great at your job and have a win at work, one day get your kids to school on time, one day be a great spouse. But you have to know it all ebbs and flows, and that you have to be ok with that. And you can’t beat yourself up.
Especially with my first daughter, I was trying to be perfect and have the house spotless and clean. And I remember one day my husband was down on the carpet playing with puzzles and remember just having anxiety watching him playing with my daughter thinking to myself "I have to clean that up.” I realized I missed out on so many moments on trying to be perfect.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU OVERCAME TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
The Void: You are both super successful, career-oriented moms. What’s been your biggest challenge that you overcame to get where you are today? And also your level of comfort being great moms and great spouses?
Alicia Ybarbo: I think saying “no” and I’m going to take care of myself. You have to say “no” at work and you have to say “no” at home. You have to remember, you have to take care of yourself. What you get is what you dish out for yourself. So as long you can say “no,” that makes you a little more level. There are always times you can’t, but you have to find time to say I am taking care of myself right now.
The Void: You start to see life giving back to you what you’re giving to yourself. That’s a profound understanding.
Alicia Ybarbo: That comes with age and having a 4 in front of your age instead of a 2. I have to take care of me, and once I take care of me I can take care of everyone else. It’s funny because I worked 14 hours yesterday, I’m on my way home and I’m like I’m not making dinner tonight, we are ordering in! I was so proud to own that thinking I was going to say when I walked into the door “get the menu book out kids, we’re ordering in tonight!” But, the second I
get home and my daughter gave me a hug (maybe she kind of knew I needed it) she said, “what’s for dinner mom, why don’t we make dinner together?” All the sudden it was no longer a thing like I thought it was.
Mary Ann Zoellner: Especially with young career women, my advice is work your ass off when you’re in your 20s. Do every single thing. Go to every single play. Take in every amazing experience you can and really work hard.
Now in our 40s with kids, we can say “hey I’m going to run out and take care of something that needs to get taken care of” without getting the stink eye from anybody. we’ve paid our dues and worked our asses off. yes, we still have these 14 hour days, but I would say do it all and go have fun in your 20s but work really, really, really hard so that when you start having kids and you’re in that position that people know you can handle it.
BEST PIECE OF ADVICE
The Void: If you had to give a piece of advice to someone just starting on their journey as a career woman or a mom OR hitting a major roadblock in their journey forward, what would your advice be?
Mary Ann Zoellner: All the girls that have worked for me have said the same. Work hard, play hard, do it all, especially before you settle down and have kids. You don’t ever realize how much time to yourself until you don’t.
Alicia Ybarbo: AMEN!
Mary Ann Zoellner: The other piece of great advice is that you think your kids need you when they’re younger, but your kids really need you when they’re older. When they pickup the phone and call you and tell you they’re getting into New York City taxis and then they’re not calling you back afterwards to tell you they made it to the location or they need you to pay for it. That’s when your kids are going to need you the most. Everyone worries about when they’re the baby, the baby is going to be fine. It’s really about that pre-teen or teen faze that you really have to be in touch as much as possible.
The Void: Is there anything else you want to share, that you want people to know?
Mary Ann Zoellner: It’s really just the whole message of the book and what we hear all the time and that is, let go of the guilt. You’re going to scream at your kids at times, you’re going to get angry at times, you’re not going to be a not a good mom at times, you’re going to make chicken nuggets in the microwave at dinner and just know it’s all going to be alright.
Alicia Ybarbo: Just know, other people are going through similar shit, and we just need to take care of each other!